CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — It was a drive that took forever, or at least it felt like it. Eighteen plays. Eighty-two yards. A game-sapping 10:47 off the clock, the longest in the 21 years that Georgia Tech has been regularly keeping such a stat.
There were 17 runs, only one pass, and it came on a rainy day at the start of the second half. It’s a wonder Virginia had any energy left to keep playing.
The No. 11 Yellow Jackets ran through a downpour Saturday, piling up 362 yards rushing and holding the ball more than 42 minutes in a 34-9 victory over the Cavaliers, dispatching the last team with an unbeaten record in Atlantic Coast Conference play.
“When we had the 11-minute drive, we’re coming in and looking at the guy lined up across from us and they’re just dog tired,” running back Anthony Allen said. “And we know we have them right then.”
With an option attack already ranked second in the nation in rushing yards entering the game, Georgia Tech put on a ball control clinic on each of its four touchdown drives: a 10-play, 60-yard march in the second quarter; the 10:47 marathon in the third; an 11-play, 66-yard put-the-game away possession in the fourth; and a didn’t-really-matter 10-play, 71-yard finisher near the very end. Quarterback Josh Nesbitt threw only two passes on those four drives.
“It’s hard to play against them because they have all those different options,” Virginia defensive lineman John-Kevin Dolce said. “One player, and the next, and the next.”
Georgia Tech (7-1, 5-1) broke an eight-game Charlottesville losing streak, winning at Virginia for the first time since 1990, the year the Yellow Jackets claimed a share of the national title. Coach Paul Johnson’s team has sole possession of the Coastal Division and is closing in on the school’s first top 10 ranking since 2001.
“We had a lot of firsts this year,” Allen said. “This had to be one of the biggest ones.”
The Cavaliers (3-4, 2-1) had a three-game winning streak snapped, a run that followed an 0-3 start that had fans calling for coach Al Groh’s job.
Jonathan Dwyer rushed for 125 yards, Allen had 103 and a pair of touchdowns, and Nesbitt ran for 82 yards and two scores. He threw only eight passes, but one was a biggie — a 52-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas that set up the field goal that gave the Yellow Jackets a 13-6 halftime lead.
It took a little while for the option to get going on a wet day that made for messy football. Georgia Tech committed three penalties and had burned two timeouts before the game was seven minutes old. The Yellow Jackets also fumbled three times in the first quarter: a muffed punt they were lucky to recover, a dropped snap to the upback that doomed a fake punt attempt, and a no-one-touched-him bobble by Nesbitt that was recovered by the Cavaliers.
“We were a little bit discombobulated there in the first 10 minutes of the game, for sure,” Johnson said. “I think you don’t panic. You just keep playing.”
Virginia couldn’t capitalize, at least not with a touchdown. Back-to-back drives that began in Georgia Tech territory ended in first goals — one killed by a holding penalty and another by two slow-developing run plays and a batted pass after the Cavaliers had first-and-goal at the 2.
“We had our chances,” Groh said. “We got out-executed at the point of attack a couple of times and had a decent play on third down that was well-defended. ... We have to do a better job of converting.”
The Cavaliers had only 30 yards rushing and converted 2 of 11 third downs. That left a lot of time for Georgia Tech’s offense to do its thing — and the Yellow Jackets used every second they could. Final time of possession: 42:43 to 17:17.
“We just needed to pick our tempo on those big drives,” Virginia defensive lineman Zane Parr said. “When we were tired, we needed to step our game up, and we didn’t do that.”